The problem with priesthood is that there are times when the awareness of Presence that is essential to fulfilling the role of priest, is simply mysteriously missing, leaving barely a whisper or a trace.

But perhaps, in the end, it is right here in this awkward place that, if I am willing to sit with the discomfort, that I may discover another fundamental calling of priesthood.

Yes, I am called to be a pointer to Presence. But, perhaps equally, I am called to acknowledge the loss of awareness of Presence that emerges in the inevitable state of sleep that creeps over me at times. I point not only to the deep abiding sense of Presence for which I long, but equally to the possibility of holding all the confusion, conflict, contradictions, and chaos that arise when I fall into unconsciousness. I stand in the midst of all the brokenness and confusion of my own life and of life in general, and bear witness to the possibility that this too can be held. There is a place for all the mess, all the opposites, and all the conflict. It just is what is.

The truth of the human condition is the truth of my condition. There are times when I am deeply grounded and aware of Presence; there are times, when I am flighty, insecure, trapped in anxiety, confusion, and worry. Both things are true of me at the same time. This does not make me a bad person or disqualify me from priesthood. It simply reminds me that my priesthood is conducted within the often deeply conflicted reality of my own human condition.

When I try to collapse the tension by believing the lie that I am never unconscious, that I am never lost, that I never wander astray, then I am perhaps most unconscious and most lost.

Most commentary on the parable Jesus tells in Luke 15, commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” focuses on the younger son who wandered astray. In our rush to understand the younger son, we forget his older brother who appears to have stayed at home. The problem for the firstborn son, is that he thought he had never left home. He was unable to see that, although his body may have stayed in place, his heart had wandered to a strange and foreign land just as much as his younger brother. He had lost touch with the generosity of his father and had excluded himself from the banquet of love and grace.

To be a priest is to see clearly and hold honestly the pain of the conflicted and confusing reality of the human condition. The priest is called to hold the tension of opposites, refusing to exclude or demonize either side. Priesthood points to the possibility of a banquet that welcomes all people regardless of how conflicted, compromised or confused they may be.

When I stand before the congregation Sunday by Sunday before anyone comes forward to receive bread and wine, I say

Jesus invites you to this table.
Come you who are hungry
and you who know you are poor.
Open your hearts.
It is the Lord who invites you.

As much as anyone, I need to hear this invitation.

All our failures and weaknesses are invited. It is all held. Nothing is excluded. I can only embody this truth when I have lived it in my own life at the deepest cellular level of my being. I can only welcome your flaws when I have deeply accepted my own.

When I acknowledge that I have lost my way, all that is left is to cry out, “Lord have mercy.” There is nothing I can do to fix it. But I can throw myself into the arms of eternal love and grace. From this place of utter abandon, it may be that priesthood is no longer a problem at all. It is simply the lived reality of all humanity in which I am invited to participate. And in my priestly functions, perhaps I can point a way in the midst of this reality, to the possibility of opening to an awareness of that Presence who holds in love all the tensions and conflicts of life.